Premier League Career: Chelsea (1992-2001), Leicester City (2001-2002)
Before John Terry experienced his rich success as captain of Chelsea, their most successful leader in the pre-Abramovich era was Dennis Wise. The tough-tackling, no-nonsense central midfielder certainly got in the face of his opponents and never messed around in his 20-year career on the football pitch. Whilst third place in 1999 was the closest he got to in the league, Dennis won three FA Cups and experienced European glory through Chelsea’s 1998 triumph in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
Wise first made his name at Wimbledon, joining them at the age of 18 when he left Southampton after falling out with Lawrie McMenemy. Under the tutorage of Dave Bassett, he blossomed and immediately became an important part of ‘The Crazy Gang.’
He played a crucial role in Wimbledon’s run to the 1988 FA Cup final. After producing the delivery of the free-kick against Watford in the quarter-finals, he scored the winner to defeat Luton Town in the semi-finals. Wimbledon played Liverpool FC in the final and were given little chance of causing an upset but the Dons had other ideas. Wise did a wonderful job of containing John Barnes and then, it was his free-kick that was headed home into the net by Lawrie Sanchez. Wimbledon had just dashed Liverpool’s hopes of a second league and cup double.
He remained with Wimbledon until July 1990 when he switched from south to west London, joining Chelsea for a club-record fee at the time of £1.6 million. He impressed immediately, scoring 10 goals in 33 matches despite the Blues finishing mid-table. The arrival of his former teammate at Wimbledon, Vinnie Jones made the Chelsea centre midfield one of the toughest and hardest around in English football. In February 1992, he scored the winning goal at Anfield to spearhead the Londoners to their first win at the home of Liverpool FC in 57 years.
In the summer of 1993, Andy Townsend left for Aston Villa and on the arrival of Glenn Hoddle as manager, Wise was appointed as Townsend’s successor in the captaincy department. He made the FA Cup final again in his first campaign with the armband but this time, it was on the losing side as Chelsea lost 4-0 to Manchester United.
The 1994-1995 season was a miserable campaign for him. Form dipped on the pitch and ill-discipline was shown in the public eye when he was sent off at St James’ Park against Newcastle United for foul and abusive language in September 1994. This earned him a rebuke from Hoddle and he would briefly be stripped of the captaincy after an even further damaging incident in a season of shameful scandals.
In March 1995, Dennis was sentenced to a three-month jail sentence for assaulting a London taxi driver, also being forced to pay £1,200 in compensation. He was given an unconditional bail and eventually, the sentence was overturned on appeal. Many of his legal team were stunned by the sentence handed down and Chelsea stood by him. Managing director Colin Hutchinson said: “We don’t condone what Dennis did but its non-football related and the punishment will come through the courts.” A long-standing thigh injury finished off his wretched personal season as Chelsea finished a mediocre 11th in the table and the only highlight was a run to the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-finals before losing to eventual winners Real Zaragoza. This incident did effectively end his England international career as he wasn’t selected again for another four years.
Wise put behind him a troubled year and began to flourish again when Ruud Gullit arrived at the club, first as a partner in midfield for Dennis, then to manage the club following Hoddle’s departure to take the England job. It was during this period that he finally began to win silverware as Chelsea’s captain. He skippered them to victory in the 1997 FA Cup final against Middlesbrough, repeating this achievement three years later when Aston Villa were beaten in the last FA Cup event to be played underneath the Wembley ‘Twin Towers.’ In-between these two triumphs in his most specialised competition for success, Wise also skippered Chelsea to glory in the 1998 League Cup, 1998 UEFA Super Cup and 1998 European Cup Winners’ Cup. In the final against VfB Stuttgart, it was his wonderful pass that played substitute Gianfranco Zola through to score the winning goal in Stockholm.
His chequered career at Chelsea came to an end in the summer of 2001 when Claudio Ranieri sold him to Leicester City for £1.6 million. Ranieri was seeking to trim the average age of the playing squad. When he left, Dennis was ranked fourth in the club’s appearance history record, featuring 445 times, scoring 76 goals. He was crowned the club’s Player of the Season in both 1998 and 2000.
His one season at Leicester City was largely forgettable. He made just 17 league appearances, scoring once in a hapless team display against Liverpool FC which Leicester lost 4-1. The Foxes were relegated from the top-flight and in July 2002, he was suspended by the club for breaking the nose and jaw of teammate Callum Davidson during a bust-up on a pre-season trip to Finland. Wise was sacked by the club a few weeks later.
His Premier League playing career was over but that didn’t mean Wise dropped out of the limelight. He joined Millwall in September 2002 and became the club’s player-manager a year later. He experienced another FA Cup final but his Lions were no match for Manchester United at the Millennium Stadium, losing 3-0 in 2004. He resumed his playing career solely after leaving The New Den in the summer of 2005, experiencing one more season of second-tier action with Southampton and Coventry City before hanging up his football boots in 2006.
He had time back in management with both Swindon Town and Leeds United and in January 2008, became Executive Director at Newcastle United. His role was being tasked with travelling around Europe and further afield identifying young players and developing the academy. However, Kevin Keegan’s departure in September 2008 after clashing with the board over player transfers saw the fans target owner Mike Ashley and Wise, believing they were behind Keegan’s decision to go. He left his role in April 2009 and disappeared from the game for several years.
In 2017, Dennis returned to our screens, appearing on the ITV reality show ‘I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!” Despite some accusations of bullying from the press at a fellow contestant, he came out of the programme with enhanced creditability and has since contributed occasionally to Premier League coverage on Sky Sports. He has become a regular on Sky’s daily evening chat programme, ‘The Debate.’
Dennis Wise packed plenty into his life and career in football. There was rarely a dull part about one of the game’s most combustive and intriguing characters of the 1990s.